Thursday, April 23, 2015

Trek Across a Country: Day 6

Originally it was planned that we would stop in Spokane, Washington for our final night on the road. I started the drive from Bozeman, Montana on I-90. My husband drove most of the trip but it was time for him to get a rest. This was hard for me with the speed limit higher that I have ever driven a car (75-80) but I managed to get through this. The car was quite weighed down but I managed to get up three steep mountain passes with it.

So far the western parts of South Dakota, Montana and Idaho are my favorite parts of the road trip.  The mountains and passes reminded me of my precious Vermont. Once we got to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, which looks like Washington State to me and is very near the border, I began to get melancholy, as I knew the trip was ending. Funny thing when you want to stay in a car after driving/sitting almost a week in one. Lake Coeur d' Alene is so beautiful and large. Who says Idaho is just about potatoes? This part of the state is know for its mining.

When we arrived at Spokane before 1:30pm and decided to just keep on towards Seattle area and end this trip in 6 days. Eastern Washington was sometimes flat, sometimes hilly but mostly farmland until you get over a mountain pass in the cascades. Western Washington usually gets all the industry credit but this area is so vast with a tempered (more seasoned climate) that the produce continues to make its way all over America. We finally made it over the Snoqualmie mountain pass.

Also prominent in this area is the wind energy this state is creating. Hundreds of them line the farms and I-90. The picture below is just before the Columbia River which we crossed with ease.

I'd like to say that there is much more to report on but after this we headed straight towards our final destination and ahead of schedule by 1.5 days. I definitely want to do this again. I learned more from this trip about my country of citizenship than in my US history class. I want to do more readings in the weeks to come on the places I have seen and also plan a different route back across this vast country.     

Oddly enough this version of the song America the Beautiful really stuck a cord with me after I heard it on the internet a few years ago. The emotion sums up for me the depth this trip provided and I wanted to end this blog series with it. Thanks for being apart of this experience with me and my husband. Until the next adventure!

Trek Across a Country: Day 5

Up at 6am to head deeper into the Black Hills of South Dakota (3 miles) until we hit Mount Rushmore. Mount Rushmore is quite majestic, it’s a feat all on it's glory and is a national marvel. We entered at 8am on a Sunday morning and realized our Vermont tags gave away that we had travelled the farthest and people let us know when they screamed Vermont? After seeing our plates. 

From here we went back through Rapid City and headed north on I-90 we got off on route 212.  This route lead us through the north east corner of Wyoming (state number 10) for about 20 minutes, there were rolling hills and open sky. Then we were lead into Montana (state number 11), or Montaña in Spanish, meaning mountainous, and this is the best description of this state. Those rolling hills are larger and beauty unparallelled. Running horses, deer, its all very breathless and amazing. 

We stopped just shy of billings to see the battleground of Little Bighorn, aka Custers last stand. Again we got in free to this national park. The museum is again quite sad given the gravity of the situation at the time. If you like history you will like this place. "This area memorializes the U.S. Army's 7th Cavalry and the Sioux and Cheyenne in one of the Indian's last armed efforts to preserve their way of life. Here on June 25 and 26 of 1876, 263 soldiers, including Lt. Col. George A. Custer and attached personnel of the U.S. Army, died fighting several thousand Lakota, and Cheyenne warriors." 

After reading A People's History Of The United States by Howard Zinn, one can no longer look at the country and its history with rose colored glasses. Passing through the indigenous areas one also cannot help but think about what was left behind, from all the wars, conflicts, and land grabs of the past. How does one come to terms with what was left behind?

All this while we listened to The Island Beneath the Sea by Isabelle Allende. I had read this in Spanish but wanted to get the audiobook as it was 18 hours long (a road trip is a great time for an audiobook) and share it with my husband who got into the story immediately. We already listened to Earth, by John Stewart and found it unrefreshing. My husband was surprised at how we haven’t fought this trip I am not. We really just enjoyed sharing this experience together. 

We continued towards Bozeman, Montana our pit stop for the evening and stopped at a trendy food spot, Montana Ale Works, all around goodness for weary travelers. Sadly, we are just 10 hours away from this trip ending and are still deciding if we want to do it in one day or two.  We shall keep you all posted on the next leg. 

Trek Across a Country: Day 4

Last night at the Granite City Food and Brewery and had my first bison burger. It was very beefy and had a good non-gamey taste. I’d have it again.

In the morning, we were up by 6am to make it to Sioux Falls Park. It was a quick jaunt to downtown and we were one of the first people there. The Falls are small but they were very tranquil. After a few more minutes we hit the road towards Badlands National Park in Interior, South Dakota.

Let me say first that this took four hours by car and largely through massive prairie land, very sparsely populated flat land. Just wide open. We stopped at the corn palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. This landmark was a erected to show the fertile nature of the land in this region of the country. The building is adorned in maize art. Unfortunately the museum area was not opened and we were quite disappointed to see that there was an sports arena inside. With our disappointment palpable we kept on the road. Every two miles on highway 90 (for many many miles through the flat part of the state) there is sign for Wall Drug in Wall South Dakota. I'll get to that part soon. "The small town drugstore made its first step towards fame when it was purchased by Ted Hustead in 1931. Hustead was a Nebraska native and pharmacist who was looking for a small town with a Catholic church in which to establish his business. He bought Wall Drug, located in a 231-person town in what he referred to as "the middle of nowhere," and strove to make a living. Business was very slow until his wife, Dorothy, got the idea to advertise free ice water to parched travelers heading to the newly opened Mount Rushmore monument 60 miles (97 km) to the west."

Once we entered into the  Badlands National Park one fact hit me- this was my first time ever to a National Park. It was National Park Week, so we entered for free. This was perfect timing for our visit as it was during the off season. Walking towards the sedimentary rocks and eroding hills, I was awe struck by the serene nature of this park. After walking around for a while we went to the visitor center. Now, I'll admit that US history wasn’t my favorite part of high school, mostly because it was poorly taught, but it truly felt like history was coming alive. Seeing the landscape that the plains indigenous live on is eye-opening. Unfortunately, the indigenous do not run this park, the national park service does. For me, this was upsetting. Of course I was just a transient passerby but it is quite undeniable the connection between this land and its indigenous people that are trying to regain their identity. As my husband says, history is told by the victors. 

After the Badlands we decided to follow the local signs to Wall, Drug South Dakota, advertised every mile on the highway towards Rapid City. Their key offering is 5 cent coffee and free ice water. Sadly, we felt trapped in a tourist nightmare with trinkets all around. We got out unscathed and unimpressed.  We flew right through Rapid City while listening to pop hits of the 90s playing, “name that band” and headed to keystone to stay closer to mount Rushmore, which turned out to be a good idea. Again we avoided tourist season and this meant we were only a handful of people in the town that night.  As we were in the black hills of South Dakota it was colder and I missed my winter coat on top of the car in the box.

After a long day there is nothing like kicking back in good company with good food. Cheers.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Trek Across a Country: Day 3

Sometimes when you are on the road its the little things that matter. No breakfast at our hotel this am meant we were hungry and on the road by 7am. Once we got out of Chicago area we experienced the northern area of Illinois, Rockford which contrasts economically significantly from Chicago. State number seven was very welcoming for us. Sadly, the state sign was too obscure for us to get a decent picture of it.
So far on this trip, my favorite state has been Wisconsin. Beautiful trees, rolling hills, nature areas, and friendly drivers/people. As we edged towards state number eight, the scenery dramatically changes. Right before entering Minnesota we crossed, and much to my shock, the massive Mississippi river.  

Construction on the bridge that crosses the two states was ongoing so good pictures were hard to come by. 
 Minnesota had no sign upon entry but we figured due to the landscape we were there. The hills went flat and the trees went away. Farms for as far as the eye can see. We got lost at some point, not marked on a map, and had to get gas at a station that was self-service (literally no attendant) and was gravel, as in not paved. Surprisingly we kept passing massive windmills. There were probably at least 200 of these as we were driving through. To our south, approximately 15 miles, was Iowa, which we paralleled all the way through the state. 
We sort of got lost again and couldn't find a rest stop. When we did in Blue Earth, MN we were very close to the border of South Dakota. My husband saw his second Washington State license plate on a trailer and we both felt calmed that the end was still near. We have a bet going on which state we would first see a Washington State license plate on a passenger car. I said South Dakota and he says Montana, so technically we both lose if you count a trailer. 

 We made it to state number nine around 4:30pm, both exhausted and me feeling a little under the weather.  Along the rolling hills we saw bison, aka buffalo. I immediately decided I needed to try it and at dinner I had a bison burger. To me, bison is beefier than cow meat. I liked it and will definitely have it again. We dragged ourselves back to our room for the night to plot a cool day 4, full of activities, and to get much needed rest. Today, we learned a lot about the bread bowl of America. These hardworking farmers fuel many Americans daily. I wonder how many people know this?
Until tomorrow, sweet dreams middle America.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Trek Across a Country: Day 2

I want to say that we got up and on the road by 7am, but it didn't happen. Day 1 was draining. Let me say though, I love my husband. We share a mutual love of good coffee. Yes, we are those people that travel with our own coffee beans and a grinder and prep it the night before to ensure an amazing cup upon waking up. We made our way to breakfast by 7am and had what passes for eggs in North East, PA. After another round of checking to make sure we had everything we packed up blue. I snapped this shot of a frozen Lake Erie in the distance.

After almost an hour we hit state number four and five: Ohio and Indiana.

 Honestly there isn't much to say about these states. They are flat and mostly rural, basically full of family farms. I couldn't tell what was grown given the season but I would suspect corn, wheat and possibly soybeans. We passed the RV/MH Museum couldn't justify getting off to visit it.  Going through the top of Indiana we were 23 miles south of Michigan. We arrived near Gary, Indiana, birthplace of the late Micheal Jackson (I put thriller on to pay homage) and proceeded to be sandwiched between semi's and bad drivers. It was scary and it was getting worse once we hit state number six.

There is no excuse for poor driving, especially close to Chicago. I changed our clocks back an hour to adjust to the time. We nearly halved our quarter stash going through four tolls in a 10 mile radius. After the tolls we had to squeeze into the lanes since very few drivers allowed us in. After one of the last ones a driver motioned next to us to roll the window down and yelled, "I've never seen a Vermont license plate before. I didn't think you guys left the state." This was not what we were expecting. We didn't see downtown Chicago as we had to bypass it. After today we were spent. Treated ourselves to slurpee's and are currently super exhausted. Tomorrow will be the longest mileage day of the trip to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. We will be catching some attractions along the way. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Trek Across a Country: Day 1

Up At 6:15am. We hit the snooze button after a crazy pre-trip day full of day packing, cleaning, spa daying, driving, car washing, eating, and tough goodbyes. Rough night of sleep as well. The anxiety of getting on the road bothered us both. After running through the apartment for what felt like hours we finished packing up with my life inside of our Toyota Camry sedan, aptly named blueberry for her hue. Blue is so heavy the tire well in back went lower than normal, all I could think of was gas budget going out the window and fear of what can happen with just the wrong bump. Nonetheless we hit the road at 7am.

We made it to Fair Haven around by 8:30 we made it to Fair Haven, Vermont right next to Whitehall, NY. My last picture below in Vermont for at least the foreseeable future. Bittersweet indeed.
I made a starling discovery after we used the restroom at the Vermont Welcome Center (see below).
 Turns out I drove nearly 50 miles with the masking tape (used for packing) on our car. How this happened, I think our pre-caffinated brains just didn't register this. So after a good laugh, we kept on into our journey.

State number two:
So after we entered we noticed the two license plates (yellow and white), does anyone know why there are different colors? Is one for upstate NY and the other for NYC? Any who billboards are everywhere, the small lazy towns are big and they are older albeit forgotten looking. Interesting was how the roads went from bad to good and vice versa with the varied income levels. You can tell this by the conditions of the houses. And then highway, pure highway.  I began to tire but we were making such good time. We hit a rest stop in Senaca, NY and sat in the new green grass to eat our sandwiches made the night before. I love the spell of fresh grass, no more winter!

AAA had us rested for the night in Buffalo, NY but we decided to continue onward to cut an hour off of tomorrows 8 hour drive to Chicago.  After another 2 hours we hit gold. State number 3:
We got here by weaving through tracker trailers in afternoon traffic surrounded by miles and miles of barren land. Within the last half hour we spotted a frozen Lake Erie in the distance. I tired and failed to contain my excitement. My husband was afraid something else  had happened given the pitch of my voice. We neared the end of leg one in North East, PA, home of Lake Erie Wine Country, known as the largest grape-growing region east of the Rockies. Too bad we are in the off season. 
 So we have arrived, checked in and looked around this older town. It didn't seem that friendly after we took a stroll in the local grocery store for stocking up on road provision. The local dive bar/restaurant offered bland American fare but was a welcome plate after the long journey. After food time to get our energy up for a big day two ahead. All smiles from here.

Trek Across a Country: An Introduction

So, first things first. Life has happened to me. Married for 5 months (2 sweet months together) and transition is happening yet again in my life. This time together with my life partner. I won't go into specifics about why we decided to take this trek but I will say it is so very exciting. We are going to Washington State and we are doing it by car. I have never been more west than Rochester, NY by car. The trip planning began with a visit to AAA as we are members. After 2 days they had a printed copy of our trip map. We bought a car kit and started packing.

One week, thirteen states. Here we go. 


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Change is a coming

To my readers,

I know my blog has not been updated in a while. Thank you for bearing with me throughout this rollercoaster of a ride. I will be updating my blog with new posts very soon.